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Richard Bong - FU Hero

Posted by Jolly on October 31, 2007

Major Richard I. Bong, USAAF. Richard "Dick" Bong is America’s Ace of Aces. He scored 40 aerial victories in the Pacific Theater during WW II and received The United States’ highest military award in the process, The Congressional Medal of Honor. 

He grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wisconsin as the son of a Swedish immigrant. He was an athlete in high school and an avid hunter. Hunting is where he perfected his almost natural ability to pull lead, determine he was in range for the kill, get in the same plane of motion with his prey, and then turn the gun on and get medieval. These skills are still used by fighter pilots today in the art form of air-to-air gun employment. Even an F-22 driver has to pull lead, be in range, and be in the same plane of motion of the target in order to achieve a gun kill.
 
Employing the gun on a fighter is about as much fun as you can have with your
cloths on. Richard Bong took gun employment to a level never seen before or since his time in the Pacific War. Now the A-10 bubbas here at FU will tell you size matters and having a 30 mm cannon is a wonderful thing. Major Bong achieved all of his kills in the P-38 Lightning with 50 caliber machine guns. It was a beautiful machine with two tails and two engines, something I’m sort of partial to myself. Talk to veterans who flew this classic fighter and you will get an earful of what a superb airplane it truly was.
 
bong.jpgGetting back to the size thing, Major Bong was forced to get close to his work since his Lightning did not have the 30 mm cannon of the Wart Hog. His kills occurred in what we refer to as the “phone booth” well inside of 1000 feet of his target. Imagine being in a dog fight with a Japanese Zero, looking over at your opponent to see the little gomer goggles, a scarf with rising sun tied above his melon, and even being able to tell if the guy needed dental work. That’s what getting close to your work is all about and Richard Bong was the best of the best when it came to jumping in the phone booth with his adversary.
 
He went thru his initial fighter training in the AT-6 in California. Senator Barry Goldwater was actually one of his instructors and was quoted as saying, "I taught him fighter gunnery. He was a very bright student.  But the most important thing came from a P-38 check pilot who said Bong was the finest natural pilot he ever met. There was no way he could keep Bong from not getting on his tail, even though he was flying an AT-6, a very slow airplane." He showed up in the Pacific in September 1942 under the command of General George Kenney. Kenny had previously chewed Bong out for flying under bridges in the San Francisco area and buzzing the local downtown but he knew this pilot had natural ability that was second to none. Bong was assigned to the 49th fighter group, 9th Fighter Squadron. 
 
Richard Bong was known as being very modest and never thought of himself as abong2.jpg great fighter pilot. He never went out of his way to get a kill at the risk of losing his wingman and just looked at it as doing his job. Well, he was damn good at his work is all I’ll say.  Major Bong went back to the States on several War Bond dives, and after his 40th victory General Kenny sent him home for good becuase there was concern over losing high profile flyers in combat.  It is estimated that he may have had as many as 80 victories, but there had to be gun camera film or a witness to get credit for the kill. 

marge2.jpgHe disliked being a public relations magnet on the War Bond drives and missed flying a great deal. He married his wife Marge in 1945 whose picture had been painted on the P-38 he flew in combat. They spent the later part of the War at Wright Field where he was a Test pilot flying the first US jet, the P-80. Sadly, he was killed on a test flight in the P-80 on August 6th, 1945 when the engine coughed on takeoff.
 
If you would like to learn more about Richard Bong, check out the web site for his heritage center.  I spoke with a fellow F-15 driver and friend, "Chief" Bong, about writing this article.  Richard Bong was his Uncle and Chief gave me some insight from his family's perspective.  He told me that his Uncle's grave is in Poplar, Wisconsin, and is near the heritage center.  According to Chief, his head stone is just like others in the family plot, small and flush to the ground.  It simply states, "Major Richard Ira Bong, America's Ace of Aces."  I recommend you visit the heritage center and his grave next time you are in upper Wisconsin. While you’re there, Throw a nickel on the grass in memory of a great fighter pilot.

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